Tuesday, September 15, 2015

A Common Compass

"Finding the Way"
- Outside the Desert Retreat House -

This morning it was so very refreshing to open the New York Times and read a political story that didn’t reek of divisiveness and judgment. Instead of stories about building walls to keep out unwanted immigrants or pictures of strident anti-gay protesters outside a Kentucky courthouse, today’s paper reported a story about a left-winged Jewish socialist who was speaking at a very conservative evangelical Christian school, and somehow together they were all standing on common ground.

At first I must admit that I was more than surprised to see that Liberty University, the school founded by none other than Jerry Falwell had invited someone like Bernie Sanders to be the speaker at their annual back-to-school (mandatory attendance) convocation.  Sanders promotes gay marriage and a woman’s right to choose - the absolute opposite position to that held by most every single person in that room listening to his speech; and yet when it came to some basic core human values, they found that they were sharing the same path.

In his speech the senator told the students that he was there among them to help establish some common ground based on shared values held by all religions - values that are especially sacred within the Christian tradition.  He said:

I am far from a perfect human being,
but I am motivated by a vision which exists in all the great religions,
in Christianity, in Judaism, in Islam, Buddhism and other religions,
and which is so beautifully stated in Matthew 7:12,
‘So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.’ 

This commonly held vision among all religions is that all human beings are worthy of dignity and respect. All religions promote living in a “just society” as a shared “right” inherent in the human condition, everyone deserves to live in a society in which everyone else has an equal and respected place at the table of life – no race or social status ever superior, no one on the outside looking in.    

While it is highly unlikely that any of those very conservative evangelical students at Liberty University might elect Bernie Sanders as President of the United States, I found it remarkable that they could all stand up after his speech and cheer for what he had to say.

Obviously we all walk on a variety of different paths in life, politically as well as spiritually; but it also seems to me that human beings also share a basic, common internal moral compass that points us in the direction of compassion. We often ignore or deny this compass but- if we can become aware of it we may just find that even though we walk very separate ways at times, on our very divergent paths we can also walk on common ground.

In his wonderful book, Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World, the Dalai Lama talks about the moral compass we all share as we walk our way in the wilderness of life:

Even from the most rigorous scientific perspectives the evidence suggests that
unselfishness and concern for others are not only in our own interests,
but, in a sense, innate to our biological nature..
interdependence is a key feature of human reality.

As human beings we can survive and thrive only in an environment of
concern, affection and warmheartedness, or in a single word, compassion,
and the essence of compassion is a desire to alleviate the suffering of others
and to promote their well being.

We are internally “wired” for compassion. Whether or not we acknowledge it, we share a common compass that points us in the direction of caring for the well being of others.  If we walk a different direction we will always wind up in a dead–end in life.

Somehow, at some deep soul-level we all feel the pull of compassion as we make our way in life - maybe that’s why a group of very conservative evangelical Christians can stand side by side with a very liberal Jewish socialist and join hands, walking together on common ground.


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